FlightWave introduces a cost-effective high-tech drone

By Patrick C. Miller | August 16, 2017

As an aerospace engineering student at Stanford, Trent Lukaczyk didn’t have much interest in unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) until he learned how difficult it was to fly a drone for a research project in primitive conditions on a remote Pacific island.

The experience of crashing the drone into the ocean would greatly influence his decision to design an unmanned aircraft that was inexpensive, had long endurance, could carry diverse payloads and handle whatever Mother Nature threw at it.

The result of his efforts with Michael Colonno—cofounder of California-based FlighWave Aerospace Systems—were revealed this week with the announcement of the company’s Edge UAS. The startup company’s drone is intended to provide customers with a sustained aerial presence in high winds during maritime and terrestrial missions.

“We targeted the niche of hard-to-fly missions in remote areas,” Lukaczyk said. “We wanted an aircraft that was weather-proof, had a small logistics footprint, long endurance and the ability to deal with flying in wind and rain. That’s the way we approached the design of our vehicle.”

The Edge is intended to provide government agencies, private companies and non-profit organizations with a cost-effective UAS to protect assets or monitor the environment. FlightWave said the Edge is well suited for conservation, energy, public safety and agriculture applications.

With a price point of $10,000 for the airframe, Lukaczyk said the UAS is accessible to many organizations. “It packs a lot of features into a state-of-the-art vehicle and has some awesome features,” he noted.

Made in the U.S. and assembled without tools, the Edge can take off and land vertically. It uses a click-to-fly touchscreen tablet controller. Operators can use automated flight planning or manual piloting.

The Edge has more than two hours of flight endurance and a range of up to 60 miles. It’s weather resistant and can fly in wind speeds of up to 40 knots. A swappable, twist-lock bay can handle standard or custom payloads. The system breaks down and can be stored or transported in a case. The company expects to later equip the aircraft with solar power for increased range and endurance.

“Another thing we’ve tried to add are different sensors and payloads people are interested in flying,” Lukaczyk said. “They can be snapped in very easily.”

FlightWave plans to work with partners and customers on customized payloads through its Payload Partners Program—an initiative to open-source an integration kit for the Edge’s payload bay or nosecone.

“FlightWave is the only company with an open-source platform to integrate new sensors,” said Edmund Cronin, company chief marketing officer. “Some clients will design something so personally suited, so unique, that we may only make it once. Other designs will excite the whole marketplace and, once certified, will be made publicly available in our store.”

The Edge will make its debut September 6-8 at Interdrone in Las Vegas.